It’s our anniversary: ten years since I brought MasterB, then called Facebook, home. He was young, less than a year at a guess, infested with fleas. He didn’t want to be removed from the students who had rescued him from the mean streets of Brighton, and I didn’t want a timid cat who hid behind the curtain. It wasn’t the most promising start. But against the odds it has been a success. We are a team, cat and human. An already close team which has become closer in lockdown. Not that MasterB knows about the pandemic. But he has become very used to having me around most of the time, has realised that I generally have three meals each day, not the two he was formerly acquainted with, and he now wants three meals a day too. He has given me an emotional support of which he is quite unaware in this time. Watching him has brought me pleasure.
Ten years ago I didn’t really want him. Now I think he’s the best cat in the world.
But for our anniversary we were mainly apart. Gorgeous weather, with blue skies, sunshine and warmth. We have been getting used to blue skies, sunshine and cold cold winds. Celia and I set off to Stratford to walk The Line, a sculpture trail that starts north of the river then ends in Greenwich. The map on the app was rubbish. But the sun shone, we saw two herons in flight, and before we even started our walk Celia got a new strap for her Swatch in the Westfield Shopping Centre. There were serious shoppers. The queue outside Primark was lengthy. Shorter queues, but still impressive, outside shoe shops and mobile phone shops. If I were a shop owner I would be heaving a huge sigh of relief.
I have been suffering from lockdown/coronavirus blues. So the fact that the end is in sight is a huge relief and mood lifter. Poor folk in tier 3 and people in Leicester in particular. Leicester has been in almost continuous lockdown for months. But bad though the lockdown blues are, I prefer them to the terrifying prospect of the virus rampaging through the population to ‘protect the economy’ as some argue, the MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell being one. A compelling reason not to move to Romford if ever I heard one.
His interview on the tv news was a study in opinion over fact. Most statements were prefaced by the words “It seems to me..” and he clinched his ‘arguments’ by saying he had spoken to many of his constituents and they felt the measures were unnecessary and had gone too far. Even Boris Johnson, a man who cannot resist jollying up information with confusing imagery, scores higher on the talking sense scale than Rosindell. Not that it’s a high bar. The evidence is that countries who have taken controlling infection seriously have made the best economic recovery. It’s not a binary choice 0f letting people die or saving the economy, the two go hand in hand.
Fortunately no pre-eight in the morning power tools this morning. Not that MasterB allows sleep beyond seven. His breakfast is a fixed star in his day. He had woke me around half past three. The unmistakable sound of a cat about to empty his stomach. He was on the bed at the time. I was up in a trice, had picked him up gently and made it to the bathroom where there is a floor that is easy to clean before anything left his mouth. I was expecting a hairball, but this looked like biscuits. As his appetite was in no way impaired at breakfast time, nor for the rest of the day, I think biscuits eaten too quickly would be my diagnosis.
After breakfast he seemed to think we should get on with the latest jigsaw.
Let’s do this!
But I had other tasks in mind.
Use of washing machines is embargoed in these flats until eight, so I was ready with my finger on the button. White towels, bed linen, bath mat, face flannels, blouses and tee shirts all drying in the sunshine felt good. I don’t know why getting the washing out on the line, blowing about and drying in sunshine should be so pleasing to me but it is. Simple pleasures. I had other work to do in the garden. My friend Michèle kindly gave me some cuttings that have rooted, and I found geraniums at Sainsbury’s. It took a while, and Celia came round with the cat food which had been delivered to her address, and some very lovely bread. We talked and mooched a bit and then she left and I continued with my raking, trimming and planting. Fingers crossed everything takes. We are due continued fine weather, so at this rate even the tomato plants should be outside before long.
Celia reckons the skies are bluer now than usual for April in London. I may have to dig out some photos from last year to see. I reminded her of the Guildford circular walk we did on Easter Sunday in glorious weather last year. She was dismissive – you’d expect bluer skies in Compton, she said.
I read tonight that social distancing may have to continue until the end of the year. So that sounds like no blackberry picking walk, and no visit to family in Northern Ireland (and therefore no lunches at the divine falafel place by the museum in Belfast). I got a message from my cousin-in-law Michele to say Uncle Bill was well and had been out in the garden. That’s good news. I had seen a postcard of Ballynahinch where he lived before Aunt Ella died and he moved in with his older son. It was from the early twentieth century, posted I think by the Linen Hall Library, with the caption ‘social distancing Ballynahinch style’. I should see if I can find it to post here. Aha, I have it! Click here to see it. Continue reading
To be honest I do not know if I shall keep up daily diary posts if this goes on for six months. It would probably be good for my mental health and to look back at in a couple of years when I hope this all feels even more unreal than it does now.
Just a local walk today. I had already braved Morrison’s. I must take my camera next time so I can show my non-shopping friends the changes made to the inside of the shop to protect shoppers from each other. Ditto that thought for M&S. Loads of food on the shelves, even green veg, hallelujah. Lots and lots of bananas. So not like the war then.
Back home and down to work and then lunch, curried lentil soup if you’re asking, and still curried lentil soup if you’re not. I was down to the last few spoonfuls when the ‘phone rang. Not a number I recognised, but hey ho. It was Uncle Bill. I am so glad I answered. He sounded well, told me about the new wee hen that is in her socially isolated space until she has built up some strength to outrun her two new sisters or stick up for herself. She, like the others is an ex laying hen. That doesn’t mean she won’t lay eggs now, just that she doesn’t lay enough for the farmer who owned her to think her worth keeping alive. Uncle Bill was saying you might have expected some compassion from the other two hens, as they come from a similarly deprived background. But it doesn’t work like that. It’s a dog eat dog world in the hen hierarchy. There had been a previous hen, a very bossy one, who kept these two under the claw, but the fox got her. Uncle Bill hinted that this was karma.
“Weather permitting,” said the email, “the boats will go back in the water 28th March”. Fortunately I am not working that day, neither is Older Nephew, so we should be water borne again – weather permitting. But getting the date meant checking Stuart is free to apply the anti fouling in advance of the relaunch (should I take champagne?) and in advance of the antifouling the boat needs to be cleaned from stem to stern. Not a job I fancied doing alone. Fortunately Older Nephew was again free and having looked at the forecast we agreed on Thursday. Except the forecast changed to heavy snow. Nooooo. Yesterday’s forecast was for strong winds, showers and sunshine. I bought my train ticket and left London in a heavy downpour.
You’d have to be living in the Big Brother House not to know of the widespread, heartbreaking flooding that has afflicted much of middle England. Any climate deniers reading this, get a grip. We need to act and act fast. This is the End if we don’t. But not having been out of London in the last few weeks I was unaware just how close to the capital the fields were flooded. From the elevated safety of the railway line I looked at submerged field upon field, at broken bridges, and bizarrely a rabbit sitting looking relaxed on what was now an island. Had it been forced above ground from a flooded burrow? Human beings can do amazing things, but I am fast coming to the conclusion the planet would have been better off without us. As an aside, can anyone here understand why Greta Thunberg attracts such anger from (mainly) white middle aged men, often with money? Do they think we can save the planet by ignoring the scale of the disaster we have created? Ostriches look intellectually superior in comparison.
It was dry when Older Nephew and I were reunited at Cambridge. Windy, but dry. After a brief detour to his house to collect a ladder, we headed for the marina. The sun shone. The single track road was more undulating than ever. I wondered if I was wearing too many layers. When I got out of the car and the wind sliced through my clothing I knew I wasn’t. Sections of the fencing at the marina were missing. The grass was blown into horizontal postures.
The field next door was soggy.
I pulled on my waterproof trousers and rubber gloves, filled buckets of water to which we added the environmentally friendly boat cleaner, and we set to work. Continue reading
The butter beans for tonight’s meal are bubbling away on the hob. I have just enjoyed my lunch, and am having a moment’s post prandial relaxation while the digestive processes get to work. It’s a beautiful day; sunny with a breeze which means I need to make sure I don’t burn when I go about my next self-imposed task to start cleaning the boat covers. I say start, because I want to see if the brushes on the cordless drill will make the job easier. However, I forgot to bring the charger, so how much charge is in the drill remains to be seen.
I have visited Reach, picked some blackberries to give my downstairs neighbours as a thank-you for keeping an eye on the plants these last couple of days, and doing my almost daily shop at the organic farm. Again I bought spinach. The other day I noticed there was a separate batch of spinach, half the price of the rest. This is what the label said:
Now the farm, as I have written before, as well as being organic also employs people with a range of disability, including those with learning difficulties. I assumed this was a spelling mistake. After all there’s holy basil, so why not holy spinach. Then I noticed the holey kale and the penny dropped. These were bags of veg with holes in.
The farm is my favourite place to buy flowers for my time afloat too.
At Burwell I filled the car with petrol and had a little explore. Burwell calls itself a village, but it’s huge. If only there were still a railway station there. I stumbled upon this chapel. It was the chimney that caught my eye at first.
Unexpected chapel, Burwell
I have been working pretty solidly since getting home, the weekend no exception. I got back tonight and, having fussed MasterB, fed him, cleared the poo from the litter tray, I made my own evening meal. I lingered over it, knowing that when I put my fork down I needed to read some notes for work tomorrow morning when the alarm will be set for six thirty. So a few minutes ago, when i looked at some pictures from my recent holiday they were a welcome reminder of rest and relaxation.
A man came to the house with a book that belonged to his family. Generations past they kept a shop, and it seems my family were among the customers. Cousin and I scanned pages from the 1840s, worried perhaps we were going to find unpaid bills that would by now have accrued considerable interest. There were lots of sundries, quantities of leather, salt, tobacco and bread, but fortunately no outstanding debts. Phew.
Groceries and Sundries
Visiting Uncle Bill, now resident with his son, another of my cousins, we again admired the temperament of the two dogs, brother and sister, found with their mother abandoned by the side of the road in a ditch. They seem to have suffered no lasting trauma.
The dogs did not have much walking yesterday; just one, half the length of those they have enjoyed every other day. We were meeting Vola for an early lunch at the Thatch, a pub I had never set foot inside until yesterday. The pub is run by members of Vola’s family, including Michaela, the granddaughter of Cousin’s friend and my partner in literary jaunts Anne who died two years ago. I last saw Michaela about the time she transferred from primary to secondary school, so it took me a few moments to realise who she was.
Vola started talking about the Van Morrison shows in Bellaghy yesterday. She hadn’t been, but she said there was a great buzz and so much traffic that the town came to a standstill. Cousin and I took note and turned up for tonight’s gig an hour and a half early. Even so, most of the parking spaces were full. It was a beautiful evening, the day had been hot and sunny. We sat outside with some drinks; Diet Coke for Cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon for me and watched and talked as the place filled up. Is there anyone you know, I asked her. She looked around her. No, she said but I think that man is Patrick Magee, the Brighton Bomber.
Time passed quickly. We finished our drinks and headed for the Ladies just before the announcement to ask us to take our seats. Very good seats as it turned out. Back row by the aisle, with a perfect view of the stage. We watched as the roadies completed their work.
Two minutes to seven and the band strode in stage. I have to say the band because I don’t know the musicians’ names, but they were amazing. All played multiple instruments. If Van the Man had had to pull out for any reason they alone would have been worth seeing and hearing. The keyboard player, who we guessed was the band leader, and the percussionist were the first to make my jaw drop. Continue reading
The number of dogs to be walked today is growing. Cousin’s Son D and his wife have gone to Liverpool with her brother for the day, leaving their two dogs at home. I shan’t walk them all together, so I shall probably get three walks myself, meaning my step counter should be recording a good number by nightfall. The main road has become so much busier it rules out any walks that take in even a small stretch of it, so the only down side is the repetitive nature of these walks. However, at this time of year there are always new plants coming into flower, calves in the fields, neighbours on the road.
In a moment we are off to Bellaghy to collect our tickets for Friday (Van Morrison) and Sunday (Alan Johnson). Two very different ‘acts’ at the same venue, the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. In preparation for listening to Alan Johnson, I caught up on his memoirs. He has written four volumes, and until a month or so ago I had only read the first one. The fourth has recently come out in paperback, so I am guessing this round of talks and interviews he is doing is to promote sales. It’s a musical memoir. I was nearly at the end when I realised The was no mention of Van the Man. A quick glance at the index confirmed the Belfast Cowboy’s omission. On the spur of the moment I sent Alan Johnson an email. Somewhat to my surprise I received a reply within forty-eight hours. He explained he loved Astral Weeks, but there were other musicians whose music he preferred to Morrison’s. It was a pleasant friendly email, as one would expect from this Johnson. Continue reading
Already a day behind. I am reassured to read that 59% of people polled in a survey wouldn’t trust Boris Johnson enough to buy a second hand car from him. However as a significant number of members of the Tory party have chosen to elect him to a post which is somewhat more important than selling second hand cars, that reassurance is tempered with fear.
Some of the red tops are printing headlines suggesting Johnson is a champion, a knight in shining armour who is going to tilt with the EU and get an advantageous Brexit deal. This is disingenuous. For one, there is no deal that would make leaving the EU a better option than staying in. Secondly, the EU has made it clear there is no better deal than the one secured under Theresa May for Brexit. Johnson et al are engaged in window dressing, preparing to blame the EU for intransigence, when the ones being intransigent are Johnson et al. These same Merry band of cynics will then turn to the electorate, claiming to be patriots, and call a election. It feels like a runaway train. What we need is someone who can apply the brake.
Anyway enough of such things today.
The promised rain came at breakfast time yesterday, so we had a slow start, but by midday Cousin and I were on the bus to Belfast. We had been expecting to go out to meet her daughter K and go on to Downpatrick, but Cousin’s ‘phone rang once we were on the road to say the plans had changed. So instead we spent a few pleasant hours in the city, and I acquired a Van Morrison self-guided walking tour manual. I didn’t manage to get a collapsible lunch box for Celia as they were out of stock, but
I did make the decision to purchase a reversible dress for my second great niece. I had seen them when I was with Fiona, but was hesitant. Second great niece has a big sister and bigger girl cousins, so has an inherited wardrobe. I decided to Ask Her Mother. She gave the purchase the thumbs up, so in a few days the postman should be delivering one of these.
A two walk day, the first with one dog, the second, appropriately, with two. Westie Boy went well ff to the beautician with Toots this morning, so Poppy and I had a walk on our own. She is very interested in the cows, not in a bad way. She wags her tail, and her body language is entirely friendly. Some of the cows seem to reciprocate her interest, leaning over the hedges and sniffing the air. I was back in Belfast, back at the falafel place, back at the Ulster Museum. I could spend a lot of time there very happily. I loved the Cornelia Parker Left Right and Centre film. Also the exhibition of woodcuts by women artists. Inevitably I didn’t have enough time, and I don’t know if I’ll get the opportunity to get back before my return home. Suddenly the days are speeding by. We are hoping to see Uncle Bill on Thursday, it’s Van Morrison on Friday, Alan Johnson on Sunday, and I still haven’t quite finished my book An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris which I am finding gripping.
Tomorrow, Cousin’s daughter K is coming with the lovely Westie Pup, now the sweetest natured little dog you ever could meet, so it could be a three dog walk. The chances of taking pictures with three leads are about nil.
Slievegrine Gallion at sunset
At the top of the hill